High Speed 2’s timetable is “too ambitious” and could be delayed by up to a year, a National Audit Office report has warned.
The NAO said the project was at risk of missing its phase one deadline of December 2026, with HS2 Ltd only 60 per cent sure it could be delivered on time.
It revealed that the Department for Transport has asked HS2 Ltd to assess the impact of extending phase one, which links London to the West Midlands, by 12 months.
But transport minister Robert Goodwill insisted phase one was “on track” to hit to its 2026 deadline.
The £55.7bn project is also facing cost pressures, with estimates for the £27.4bn first phase currently exceeding available funding by £204m, while phase two is exceeding available funding by £7bn.
NAO director Rebecca Sheeran told Construction News that the “unrealistic timetable” from the DfT meant HS2 “wasn’t as ready as it would hope to be [despite making] significant progress” over the past three years.
She added that this would “add to the challenge of delivering what was an already complicated project”.
The findings have been labelled “concerning” by Labour MP Meg Hillier, who is the chair of the public accounts committee.
She said: “Major decisions would need to be made if HS2 was to deliver all the government has promised.”
The report also revealed that a review had been completed by the Cabinet Office looking at bringing down the costs of phase two by £9bn.
The report was written ahead of last week’s Brexit vote, which has cast doubt over a number of infrastructure projects in the UK.
Rail Freight group chairman and Labour peer Lord Berkeley said parts of the line could be scaled back as a result of the uncertainty caused by the referendum result, according the Financial Times.
HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby said: “The role of the NAO is to challenge projects such as HS2 and through that challenge improve the way they deliver for the taxpayer. This report does this and we accept that challenge.
“As the report says, HS2 remains a highly ambitious project, but as it also demonstrates there are real and substantial grounds why the public, government and parliament should have increased confidence in our ability to deliver the project.
”Our job is to keep earning that confidence going forward.”
Jim Steer, director at Greengauge 21, said that the report “held no surprises” and it was the NAO’s job to identify key risks on any project.
“I don’t really think there is anything in this that will unsettle those involved with HS2 at all, when you look at the detail there are actually quite a few positives.”
He added that despite the findings, HS2 and the government should continue to press ahead with plans for both phases of the line, saying “if you wait for certainty you wait for ever”.